More than 100 Israeli fighter jets took part in a massive exercise earlier this month that senior US military sources say was training for a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, reported the New York Times on Friday.
The US sources told the newspaper that the exercise saw the Israeli fighters and refueling planes fly some 900 miles, which is the distance from Israel to Iran's main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.
One Pentagon official said that the exercise served two purposes, the first being training for an actual strike on Iran, and the second to send a firm message to the US, Europe and Iran that if diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program fail the Jewish state will take matters into its own hands.
Israel Air Force officials refused to confirm or deny that the recent exercise was a prelude to a strike on Iran, and said only that Israeli forces regularly train to confront any and all regional threats.
In related news, Israel is trying to block a $400-million arms deal between the US and Lebanon, fearing that the advanced American weapons being offered could fall into the hands of the Iranian proxy group Hizballah, reported Ha'aretz.
Hizballah today effectively controls Lebanon, having won veto power over the government as part of a coalition agreement brokered earlier this month. Hizballah ally and former Lebanese army chief Michel Suleiman was also elected president as part of the deal.
Under Suleiman's leadership, the Lebanese army came to view Hizballah as an ally and and asset, fueling Israeli fears that any arms transfered to the army will eventually be used by Hizballah against Israel.
US officials maintain that the arms deal will empower the Lebanese army to better deal with Hizballah and other armed factions that today operate freely in the country.